French auteur Jacques Audiard’s latest film ‘Rust and Bone’ is a tour de force. His way of storytelling and exploring the raw emotions of his main characters is nothing less than stunning. This film is moody and gritty. It explores redemption. It is a love story between two troubled souls. It is this unexpected relationship that gives it a naturalistic feel. Marion Cotillard’s (La vie en rose, Inception, Midnight in Paris) performance is mesmerizing. Her acting is in a class all by itself. I’m still in shock The Academy snubbed her for a Best Actress nod but this film is not a conventional paint-by-the-numbers Hollywood love story so I actually understand why they shied away from it.
Audiard’s filmmaking style makes you feel uncomfortable. Fair warning, this film has sex scenes and plenty of nudity. The story is about Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) who is estranged from his wife and takes custody of his five-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdue). With nowhere else to go, they end up mooching off of Ali’s sister (Corinne Masiero) in a modest apartment located in Antibes, a beach resort in the South of France. His sister helps him get a job as a bouncer at a local nightclub. The story is about these two very different people that happen to meet when Stephanie (Cotillard) is involved in an altercation at the nightclub. Their first encounter is not love at first sight.
Stephanie has an exotic and dangerous profession as an Orca whale trainer at a Sea World theme park on the French Riviera. During a performance in front of a packed stadium, something goes terribly wrong and Stephanie is involved in a freak accident. She wakes up in a hospital without her legs. It’s shocking. Cotillard gives us just the right amount of anguish in the hospital. Her life has changed forever. There is stark dialogue used that gives the scenes even more resonance. One day, out of the blue, Stephanie calls Ali. He left his phone number with her after they first met. This is the beginning of the most unlikely relationship you’ll see but it works so well.
When Ali shows up at Stephanie’s apartment, it is awkward at first. Ali isn’t the warmest guy but Stephanie likes how he doesn’t treat her like a helpless victim. When they go to the beach together, Audiard’s bright sunlit camera shots set the right tone. The scene is breathtaking as Stephanie finally gets into the water and swims freely. The water is a strong metaphor throughout the film symbolizing both life and death. This film has so many special moments. When Stephanie discovers that Ali is a mixed martial arts street fighter it peaks her interest. She asks him if it is okay to come along to one of his fights. As she sits in a van, she watches him destroy his opponent and it turns her on.
Another scene shows Stephanie returning to the theme park and looking through a glass observation window. She dramatically gives a killer whale familiar sign language as it responds in kind. It’s brilliant. This story does meander a bit in the third act. The ending seems like an easy way out. However, the breathtaking scenes and provocative character studies make up for any shortcomings in the finale. Schoenaerts performance reminds me of a young Brando in the film, ‘On the Waterfront.’ He gives a rugged and thought-provoking performance. What can I say about Cotillard? She is one of the most talented actresses of her generation and directors like Audiard are just discovering her brilliance.
‘Rust and Bone’ is playing exclusively at The Flicks theatre, downtown Boise.